Manchester United are yet to agree a deal that would see Facundo Pellistri extend his stay at the club. Before penning his signature, however, should the youngster seriously consider a permanent transfer away?
The young winger is currently under contract until 2025 (with the option of a further year), but United are keen to tie him down for longer—the Manchester Evening News reported last week that the club have recently offered improved terms.
But Pellistri, 21, should be cautious in his decision making.
As history has told us, United are not the most suited to caring for their academy players’ long-term careers for the most part.
Look at Dean Henderson as an example: the goalkeeper has been itching for a permanent transfer away from Old Trafford for several years in order to stamp his authority on his own career. United have fiddled about with loan moves or with the pretence that he will be the squad’s first-choice No.1. His disillusionment has led to disdain from fans towards a successful academy product.
Going back a few years, there were the likes of Devonte Redmond. The central midfielder—although not blessed with an elite quality skillset—was strung through academy football until 21 years of age before he was granted a short loan move to Scunthorpe in the lower leagues.
Axel Tuanzebe, who made his name alongside Redmond in the under-18s and reserves, was set up to become a key first team member after his mesmerising defensive thwarting of Kylian Mbappe in the Champions League—he was almost completely forgotten about for the next 18 months, a significant portion of time for a young professional footballer’s career.
Although United are associated with nurturing, rewarding, and developing young academy players, the actual rate is few and far between. This connotation has been helped by strokes of luck the club hit, like when Marcus Rashford started firing from all cylinders from the off; another stroke of luck that he has continued to develop into one of European football’s best forwards. Alejandro Garnacho has recently been intergrated into the first team under shrewd management from Ten Hag; he is one of the lucky ones.
Pellistri arrived in the same summer as Amad Diallo for a considerable fee: €8.5million. Both players are now at a crucial point in their trajectory, but must consider what is best for them, rather than the manager.
Diallo arrives back to Carrington after a blitzing spell at Sunderland in the Championship, while Pellistri will either be full of hunger to impress during pre-season or full of frustration after a lack of minutes last season.
The Uruguay international had been seeking a loan move in January before Erik ten Hag scuppered any such transfer, claiming that Pellistri would be awarded the chance of becoming a key first team member and was needed.
He played 60 minutes of Premier League football after the winter transfer window closed.
It is debatable as to whether United sought the best for the 21-year-old when he first made the journey from South America. He was shipped out on loan to Alaves in La Liga only a few months after with little time to immerse himself in the club’s “DNA”; instead he was sent away to continue practising his native Spanish.
The fact of the matter is that Pellistri is a highly talented prospect which everyone recognises apart from United, apparently. He featured in all of country’s group stage games at the World Cup; twice as a starter, once as a substitute (28 minutes: nearly half the amount of time he played under Ten Hag after the international competition).
He has garnered 12 international caps overall in his young career, with the lack of club minutes forgone in favour of acknowledging his ready-for-top-flight-football talent and mentality. His cameo appearances in the Premier League and cup game runouts have impressed many, causing the question ‘Why isn’t he playing more instead of Antony and Sancho?’ to arise.
Like Tuanzebe and Henderson and several others, Pellistri will be sold a dream by the Old Trafford hierarchy—a dream that many of us would jump at the chance of realising, no doubt. But the career-span of a footballer is short. Pellistri must be careful in tying himself down to a team which he is seemingly not allowed to play in for the next five years.
Of course, no club wants to see a starlet walk away and become a top-tier player down the road. But there must be a degree of care for academy players when finalising a decision. James Garner’s transfer to Everton and Tahith Chong’s permanent move to Birmingham City last summer were signs that the club were thinking about the best for their players’ careers—both players had just returned from fruitful loan spells.
What’s more is that the club needs cash. Badly. The takeover process is lingering on for too long for to be considered as a resolution to the club’s financial problems. It needs to be fixed. Now. Pellistri would command maybe twice the fee of what United had paid for him.
Ten Hag needs to be honest with himself, his squad plans, and Pellistri’s place. Can he definitively state that Pellistri will play circa 25 90-minute games next season, which is what a 21-year-old player with high potential needs to play and which all fans would love to see?
The option which the United chiefs are surely edging towards would be to renew his deal, send him on loan to a top-flight team, and if all else fails sell him for a decent fee next summer due to the longer contract. This approach, however, does not favour the player, who should at the very least demand a set number of appearances or a transfer. Soon to be 22 years old, finding a club to become truly settled at in turn provides the youngster with not only the opportunity, but also the confidence and comfort to excel.
And that is what Pellistri needs.